The Americans with Disabilities Act, which is meant to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities, has caught the attention of some small-business owners who say they’re getting hit with an unfair share of ADA-related customer lawsuits.
NBC Bay Area reported earlier this year that California had more ADA-related lawsuits filed since 2005 than New York, Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania combined. (The state has also added extra teeth to the law when it comes to plaintiffs collecting personal damages and attorney fees.)
Some lawsuits described humiliating experiences such as a wheelchair-bound patron having to use the restroom with the stall door open because the stall was too small. But there were also cases such as the one involving Fresno-based Doughnuts 2 Go, which was sued because it had a unisex bathroom that was the wrong shape and tables that were wheelchair accessible but didn’t have the required emblem. The irony is that Doughnuts 2 Go’s manager Lee Ky relies on a wheelchair himself.
“The ADA is a great thing if it’s used in the right way,” Ky told the NBC station. “Right now it’s not being used in the right way.”
There is no data out yet to prove that small businesses get targeted more often than large businesses. However, small-business owners—particularly minority-owned businesses in California—are speaking out about the issue. They say there are certain disabled individuals who work with the same law firms and continue to lob costly lawsuits at their businesses.
Andy Chhikara, a leader in Fresno's Punjabi business community, tells National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” that minority-owned small businesses are easy targets because they don’t have enough money to legally fight such lawsuits. Plus, “when the word [lawsuit] comes into their family and stuff, it's a disgrace for them,” Chhikara says.
Randy Moore, a lawyer who has filed hundreds of ADA lawsuits in California, told both NBC Bay Area and NPR that business owners’ complaints are disparaging to disabled plaintiffs who are, in fact, civil rights activists sticking up for the right to real physical access to establishments.
California lawmakers may try to find some kind of middle ground, such as an initial grace period in which a business owner can fix a problem before being sued. But the Golden State isn’t alone with these problems.
In New York, a federal judge in Brooklyn went as far as to investigate the actual businesses being sued, concluding that lawsuits wouldn’t actually help disabled people. But Judge Serling Johnson Jr.’s investigative behavior caused his strident ruling to be tossed out by an appeals court this year.
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